Focus on Sustainability: Sustainable Economic Development Initiative

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The nonprofit Sustainable Economic Development Initiative (SEDI) was established to create sustainable economies in Northern Arizona. SEDI executive director Carol Bousquet and Board Member Holly Yeager talk about the organization.

Ted Simons: Today's focus on sustainability looks at a nonprofit organization that's trying to create sustainable economies in northern Arizona. Here to talk about SEDI, the sustainable economic development initiative, is its executive director Carol Bousquet, and the board member Holly Yeager, who works for Coconino director of organizational development. Thanks for being here.

Carol Bousquet: Thanks for inviting us.

Ted Simons: What is SED?

Carol Bousquet: Well, SEDI consists of 45 board members plus alternates, plus 45 committed people who are promoting economic prosperity in northern Arizona, sustainable prosperity in northern Arizona.

Ted Simons: I had a definition here. Sustainable economic prosperity through ecological health, social equity and resilient economy.

Carol Bousquet: That's our mission.

Ted Simons: But what does that mean?

Carol Bousquet: Well, I would say what we're trying to do is promote a sustainable economic environment that can be perpetuated, not one necessarily that would -- well, holly, that would land you in a place that you would have to go back if you brought in a company that was there only because of some certain incentives, for example, and then the economy changes and they have to leave and lay off all the people --

Ted Simons: Not good.

Carol Bousquet: That's not sustainable.

Ted Simons: It sounds like you have a resilient economy as you mentioned in your mission statement. Describe a resilient economy against a good, old fashioned strong economy.

Holly Yeager: One of the things for resilience in northern Arizona is it's a great place to live. So we're always looking at how can we keep the companies that we have and how can we really promote companies that want to do the best for their communities. So resilience for us can look like things like having sustainability in the school system. Promoting a culture of entrepreneurship. Helping with local food and promoting local food and local entrepreneurs.

Ted Simons: It sounds like the focus is local.

Carol Bousquet: You got it.

Ted Simons: That's basically what it is. Get it here, keep it here, promote it here, grow it here.

Holly Yeager: What does that mean for northern Arizona, for our environment as well as our economy?

Carol Bousquet: One of the unique features of the flagstaff region is that we're not very close to other urban areas. We count on transportation systems to bring goods and services and if we can contain that, provide more goods and services closer to home, that's easier to sustain.

Ted Simons: We mentioned keeping things local. Work force training would help keep local workers local. Correct?

Carol Bousquet: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: And you have a work force training program?

Carol Bousquet: We have been working for years on putting together a work force training program in the region which we anticipate being launched in January of 2013. So we're very excited about that. It's a collaboration with a host of local entities including the community college, the university, the county, the city, school district. It's a facility that is utilizing an under-purposed what is now a middle school once was a high school and there are empty shop spaces that are going to be renovated for that purpose.

Ted Simons: Challenges getting this work force training -- sounds like it's been a long time coming. Have there been speed bumps?

Holly Yeager: Well, we did a survey. We identified that manufacturers are going to be need ago work force training force in northern Arizona. We're expecting lots of job growth. We have all kinds of things going on including forest restoration initiative. The need to train lots of people in manufacturing. What a great opportunity that we had a chance to use the existing machine floor of the former high school. Things like this wouldn't happen without study. Because, you have government, nonprofit and business leaders all at the table saying how do we make the best of the resources that we have and really make the connection between the university, the work force that we're training and the needs of business.
Carol Bousquet: I would also add to that that some of the speed bumps along the way have been questions about how would that work? How would we partner? What are the odds? How can we overcome those obstacles. It's been a long and interesting process of trying to think creatively about how to come together in a cohesive fashion and make something happen.

Ted Simons: You mentioned developing entrepreneurs up there. I notice on your mission site developing an entrepreneurial eco-system. What does that mean?
Holly Yeager: Well, we're really excited because we're doing an event on october 9th at the high king conference center where we are going to talk about what does it take to create a culture of entrepreneurship. There's really a role that each of us can play as policy makers, what's the role for a local government? What's the role in terms of existing entrepreneurs and ensuring their success and then for people starting out from the very beginning. So we wanted to offer a range of services to entrepreneurs and future entrepreneurs and that's what we're going to do at the summit.

Ted Simons: Something else that looks very important for you up there, sounds like a wonderful opportunity, is eco-tourism. That's got to be huge already in northern Arizona. How is that fitting into what you're doing?

Carol Bousquet: Well, most specifically, "Study Overseas" a Walton family foundation grant which has provided a wonderful opportunity to partner with some other organizations in the Verde Valley, to promote eco-tourism based around preservation of the Verde river, honoring that as a destination point but also a resource for the area. So that's been very interesting. That group has already been in turn been connected -- there's a website that connects with the Flagstaff area, Green Business Network, and together the synergy has provided a rich eco-tourism resource.

Ted Simons: I have heard collaboration. I've heard synergy. Sounds like a lot of folks -- like folks are getting together. Are they getting together? Is it like herding cats?

Holly Yeager: Not really. We have a lot of leaders in northern Arizona, a lot of people who are really committed to the sustainability of the region. People from every sector really coming together. SEDI is very unique in that it brings groups together and asking what's possible. We take a longer term focus, so sometimes we create almost the fertile ground for economic development efforts and with partner with a very long list of folks working on economic development. Sometimes what we do is very simple. We have had a very successful teacher recognition award. It's phenomenal to be able to recognize four teachers a year for what they do to integrate sustainability into their curriculum.

Carol Bousquet: In fact, I think We're going to build on that, bringing businesses and the students, our future leaders, together to partner on sustainability efforts.
Ted Simons: I saw one thing that was fascinating. The idea of keeping food production and food security local, and a regional beef processing plant is being talked about. What is that all about?

Carol Bousquet: Well, we have sponsored some studies to ascertain whether or not there's really a market for it. One thing we have a lot of in Northern Arizona is cattle. Right? All right, so it doesn't seem like a real sustainable practice to ship it to the Midwest to be processed and ship it back to sell it in the grocery store. So what we're trying to figure out is what are the obstacles to keeping that local? Turns out that USDA inspection is one of them. So we, SEDI, have brought in USDA inspectors and said, here are some processing plants in the area. Small ones albeit, but a start. What is it that they can do to upgrade their facilities so that you would come in and do the inspections necessary to make it possible for them to sell it locally. We have found one gentleman who is right now working to upgrade his facilities for just that purpose. Like I said, small but incremental start.

Ted Simons: And local.

Carol Bousquet: And local.

Ted Simons: I kinda, ask you this in a different way, but I want to ask you this again. Basically the response from civic leaders, response from business leaders, response from residents. What are you hearing?

Holly Yeager: I think that we're very progressive community and there's a lot of excitement about economic development and economic prosperity in Northern Arizona. I think that study is very much part of that. Everybody sees that they have a unique role to play. It's great to be part of an organization where you can hear directly from business about what makes our community so unique and how do we make sure we preserve these things as we go into the future.

Ted Simons: What are you hearing, again from civic, business, and just folks?

Carol Bousquet: I think there's a lot of enthusiasm for the future of the region. I think people are coming together. I hear lots of partnerships taking place. In fact, one of the things that SEDI has been increasing our partnerships with is in Verde Valley, in doing is we're holding board meetings on occasion. We have board members from Clarkdale and Camp Verde and sedona. To bring that perspective and energy into the conversation has just been really invigorating.

Ted Simons: All right. Sounds like things are happening up there. Good luck.

Carol Bousquet: They are.

Ted Simons: Continued success.

Holly Yeager: Come see us.

Carol Bousquet:Executive Director,Sustainable Economic Development Initiative (SEDI); Holly Yeager:Board Member,Sustainable Economic Development Initiative (SEDI);

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